The United States government has called on health experts seeking to work in the country to apply for visas.
It made the call in a statement on Friday, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed many people with thousands infected in that country.
“We encourage medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor programme (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment,” the statement published on www.travel.state.gov said.
The US also asked other foreign medical professionals already in the country to consult with their sponsor to extend their programmes in the country.
It noted that ‘J-1 programme’ for foreign medical residents can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years.
The government, however, explained that the expiration date on a visa does not determine how long a foreigner can stay in the US.
China and the United States should “unite to fight” the deadly coronavirus pandemic, President Xi Jinping said in a call with Donald Trump on Friday, as he called for the US to improve relations.
The two countries have clashed in recent weeks over the virus, and Chinese state media said Xi told Trump he hoped the “US will take substantive actions to improve Sino-US relations.”
He also called for the two countries to work together to tackle the virus and said Beijing “wishes to continue sharing all information and experience with the US”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Trump sounded a positive tone, tweeting that he had a “very good conversation” with Xi, and that both leaders discussed the pandemic “in great detail”.
“China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus. We are working closely together. Much respect,” he wrote.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angered Beijing this month by repeatedly referring to “the Chinese virus” when discussing the COVID-19 outbreak first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Trump has since dropped the term amid accusations of racism, in another small sign of easing tensions between the two world powers.
Earlier this month a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing also suggested in a tweet that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.
This prompted Trump to accuse China of spreading misinformation, and the US president repeatedly attacked China’s lack of transparency and the slowness of its initial response to the outbreak.
Xi said Sino-US relations were at a “critical juncture”, CCTV reported, adding that cooperation was mutually beneficial and “the only right choice.”
Friday’s call also took place as the US overtook China as the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases — the pathogen has now infected more than 82,400 people in the world’s largest economy.
During the call, Xi said China had shared information about the epidemic with the World Health Organization and other countries including the US in a “timely” manner throughout.
“Infectious diseases are the common enemy of mankind, and do not recognise borders or races,” said Xi.
Some provinces, cities and companies in China have provided medical supplies and support to the US as well, Xi added.
At an emergency videoconference chaired by Saudi Arabia Thursday — which both Xi and Trump joined — G20 nations pledged a “united front” in the fight against the coronavirus.
The group said they would inject $5 trillion into the global economy to counter the pandemic amid forecasts of a deep recession.
President Donald Trump has tested negative for the novel coronavirus, his physician said, following concerns over his exposure to a disease that has paralyzed the globe.
Trump agreed to the test after coming in contact with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation visiting his Florida resort who have since tested positive for the virus.
“This evening I received confirmation that the test is negative,” the president’s physician Sean Conley said in a Saturday memo.
Trump, 73, had dismissed concerns over his exposure to the disease which has killed at least 51 Americans and upended the rhythm of daily life across the country, with millions working from home and schools shut.
New York, the most populous US city, saw its first coronavirus death on Saturday, as store shelves were stripped bare after days of panic buying.
Across the Hudson River in Teaneck, New Jersey, Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin called for a citywide self-quarantine after 18 cases were confirmed in the township.
“What we are saying is that we are ground zero,” Hameeduddin said. “Expect or act as though you’re going to infect somebody or somebody is going to infect you.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced further curbs on travel to the United States, saying a ban imposed on European nations over the pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland Tuesday.
The restrictions threw airports across the country into disarray, with incoming travelers forced to wait hours for medical screenings before passing through customs.
Illinois governor JB Pritzker said the long lines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport were “unacceptable.”
“The federal government needs to get its [email protected]#t together. NOW,” he tweeted.
Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf said his office was working with airlines to improve screening times.
Trump advised against non-essential travel and said officials were also considering imposing domestic restrictions.
“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said at a White House news conference. “We want this thing to end.”
In an official proclamation, he also named Sunday a national day of prayer “for all people who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, freeing up some $40 billion in disaster relief funds.
The US House of Representatives also passed a bill — crafted by Democrats in consultation with the Trump administration — to provide billions of dollars for free virus testing, emergency paid sick leave and family leave. It is expected to pass the Republican-majority Senate.
An end to hand-shaking
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 5,800 lives in at least 137 countries.
Repeatedly attacked for sending out mixed signals on the health crisis, the president raised eyebrows on Friday when, contrary to medical advice, he was seen shaking hands as he gathered his coronavirus response team at the White House.
On Saturday, he blamed habit — “people put their hand out… you don’t think about it” — but said it would have to change.
“Maybe people shouldn’t be shaking hands for the long term,” said Trump, a self-declared germophobe.
Trump’s virus test came after contact with the Brazilian delegation as well as US lawmakers and political leaders who have gone into self-quarantine over potential infection.
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was on Saturday awaiting results of a virus test after she came down with flu-like symptoms. She reportedly attended an event in Florida with Trump on Monday and flew back to Washington on Air Force One.
A broader travel ban
On Saturday a 30-day US ban took effect on all travel from the EU’s Schengen border-free zone, part of a global clampdown on travel to curtail the virus.
Pence said the ban would include Britain and Ireland as of midnight EST on Monday (0400 GMT on Tuesday). Both countries had been excluded from the initial ban.
“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal (US) residents can come home,” Pence said.
Trump also aimed a new jab at the US Federal Reserve, saying he wanted it to be “much more proactive” in moving to protect Americans from the widespread economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.
But the president seemed otherwise subdued during Saturday’s briefing, uncharacteristically offering praise to Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Trump also tweeted that he had a “nice conversation” with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that it was “great to hear that his wonderful wife Sophie is doing very well.”
Trudeau has been tele-governing since his wife was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders secured crucial endorsements Sunday from prominent black supporters just days ahead of the first round of voting to pit them in a head-to-head contest.
Senator Kamala Harris, a former Democratic candidate herself, endorsed Biden, while Sanders won the backing of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson as the rival candidates competed for African American support — a key demographic in the fight for the party’s nomination.
Voters in six states go to the polls Tuesday, a week after the “Super Tuesday” elections dramatically reversed the two men’s fortunes, snatching the frontrunner’s title from Sanders and revitalizing Biden, who now holds a lead in delegates to the nominating convention.
Biden did well on Super Tuesday in Southern states with large black populations, states similar to Mississippi, which votes Tuesday. And in Missouri, a Midwestern state also voting Tuesday, one recent poll gives him a 22-point lead.
That makes Michigan, the day’s biggest prize, an almost must-win for Sanders. A survey in that north-central state last week gave Biden a six-point advantage.
“Joe has been there for Michigan when our back was against the wall,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer told AFP Sunday, during an appearance at a majority black church in Detroit.
Michigan’s critically suffering auto industry received a major boost in 2008 from a massive intervention under the administration of Barack Obama and Biden.
But Whitmer predicted a close race on Tuesday; Sanders has a large organization in Michigan with considerable union support.
Also voting Tuesday are Idaho, North Dakota and Washington state.
Sanders focuses on Michigan
Sanders, desperate to kickstart his campaign after losing 10 of the 14 Super Tuesday states, has canceled plans to speak in Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois in order to focus on Michigan.
Jackson endorsed Sanders at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, repaying the self-described democratic socialist for having supported his 1988 bid for the White House.
“I stand with Bernie Sanders today because he stood with me,” Jackson said. “I stand with him because he stands with you.”
“Sanders has a better chance at beating Trump than Biden does,” Sara Long, 25, told AFP as she stood in line for the rally.
“I think that a lot of his views are more progressive, and they’re what this generation is looking for,” she said.
Sanders touted Jackson’s endorsement on Sunday television talk shows, calling him “one of the great civil rights leaders in the modern history of this country.”
“He changed American politics with the concept of the Rainbow Coalition — getting the blacks and whites and Latinos together in ’84 and ’88,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “So we’re proud.”
Sanders appeared on four Sunday talk shows; Biden on none.
Biden’s Super Tuesday surge brought an influx of donations — $22 million in the past few days, his campaign said in a statement Sunday.
It said $12 million would be spent on hiring new staff and launching a major media campaign in battleground states.
Harris said she was backing Biden, a centrist who touts his ability to work with Republicans because she believes he can best unify the country going into the crucial November elections against Donald Trump.
“I am with great enthusiasm going to endorse Joe Biden for president of the United States,” she said in a videotaped statement posted on Twitter.
Eight other former Democratic candidates — including Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke — had earlier endorsed Biden.
He later tweeted his thanks to Harris, saying, “You’ve spent your whole career fighting for folks who’ve been written off and left behind.”
The endorsement was a bit of a reversal; Harris had sharply chastised Biden in a televised debate last June over his warm words for past segregationist senators and his opposition in the 1970s to busing to integrate US schools.
But many African American leaders have since swung behind Biden, helping to resurrect his once flagging campaign.
Blacks’ ‘best chance’
Sanders has had trouble attracting black voters — Biden won more than four black votes in South Carolina for each one favoring Sanders — making the endorsement from Jackson all the more significant.
Jackson questioned whether moderate policies would benefit African Americans.
“A people far behind cannot catch up choosing the most moderate path,” said Jackson.
“The most progressive social and economic path gives us the best chance to catch up, and Senator Bernie Sanders represents the most progressive path. That’s why I choose to endorse him today.”
World number two Rafael Nadal captured his first ATP Tour title of 2020, easily defeating unseeded Taylor Fritz in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, in the final of the Mexico Open on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Nadal, playing in his first tournament since losing in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open last month, didn’t drop a set all week and improved to 19-2 all-time at this event.
He nabbed his third Mexico Open title to go with victories in 2013 and 2005.
“I couldn’t be happier. I played a great event from the beginning to the end,” Nadal said. “Acapulco was the first big title that I won in my career, so to be able to stay here after 15 years is amazing.
“I can’t thank enough the people who make me feel at home every single time.”
Like many Americans, bartender Danjale Williams is worried about the growing threat of the novel coronavirus.
What makes the 22-year-old in Washington even more frightened: The thought of medical bills she just can’t afford, as one of almost 27.5 million people in the United States who don’t have health insurance.
“I definitely would second guess before going to the doctor, because the doctor’s bill is crazy,” she said. “If it did come down to that, I don’t have enough savings to keep me healthy.”
As the virus begins spreading in the west of the country, where the first death was reported Saturday, public health experts warned the US has several characteristics unique among wealthy nations that make it vulnerable.
These include a large and growing population without medical insurance, the 11 million or so undocumented migrants afraid to come into contact with authorities, and a culture of “powering through” when sick for fear of losing one’s job.
“These are all things that can perpetuate the spread of a virus,” said Brandon Brown, an epidemiologist at UC Riverside.
The number of Americans without health insurance began falling from a high of 46.7 million in 2010 following the passage of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), but has risen again over the past two years.
The current figure is about 8.5 percent of the population.
Getting through the door
Public health experts often worry about the destructive potential of a pandemic in poorer parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
These poverty-plagued regions have hospitals that are ill-equipped to stop the spread of infectious diseases, or to adequately care for patients needing breathing assistance, which the most severe cases of COVID-19 require.
By contrast, the US has some of the world’s best hospitals and medical staff, but those not lucky enough to have good insurance through their employer, and not poor enough to qualify for state insurance, often opt out of the system entirely.
A routine doctor’s visit can run into hundreds of dollars for those without coverage.
“I think that it’s possible if this has the sustained spread, that might highlight some of those health care disparities that we already know about and are trying to work on, but haven’t figured out a way to solve,” said Brian Garibaldi, the medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s biocontainment unit.
That’s not to say uninsured people have no recourse if they fall seriously ill.
US law requires that people who are truly sick get the care they need, regardless of ability to pay.
Abigail Hansmeyer, a Minnesota resident who along with her husband is uninsured, said that if she did fall ill, “we may seek out the emergency room for treatment.”
But being treated doesn’t mean the visit was free and the uninsured can be lumped with huge bills after.
“So we have to very carefully consider costs in every situation,” the 29-year-old said.
One of the key messages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out about the coronavirus is to stay home if you have mild respiratory symptoms, except to go to the doctor once you have called in and if they think you need to.
“But a lot of people, depending on their jobs, their position and their privilege, are not able to do that,” said Brown.
The US is alone among advanced countries in not offering any federally mandated paid sick leave.
Though private companies offer an average of eight days per year, only 30 percent of the lowest paid workers are able to earn sick days, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
For many of these people, missing even a day’s work can make a painful financial dent.
An October 2019 nationwide survey of 2,800 workers by the accounting firm Robert Half found that 57 percent sometimes go to work while sick and 33 percent always go when sick.
– Vaccine cost fears – As the global death toll from the virus approaches 3,000 and the US braces for a wider outbreak, the race is on to develop vaccines and treatments.
Current timeline estimates for the leading vaccine candidate are 12-18 months, but will it be affordable for all? That question was put to Health Secretary Alex Azar in Congress last week.
His response: “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”
Ed Silverman, a columnist for industry news site Pharmalot, panned the comment as “outrageous.”
“No one said profits are verboten,” he wrote. “But should we let some Americans who may contract the coronavirus die because the price is out of reach?”
Despite clamour for a unification fight between Fury and fellow Briton Anthony Joshua, Wilder was widely expected to exercise his contractual right for a rematch — likely to take place by July.
In a video message posted on social media on late Friday, Wilder promised to return “in a few months.”
“I will rise again,” Wilder stated. “I will be back. We will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and regain the title.
“I’ll see you in a few months. For the war has just begun.”
Wilder also said Friday that he would keep co-trainer Mark Breland in his corner, despite earlier hints that he was ready to part company with Breland, who threw in the towel in the seventh round of the loss to Fury.
“I’m a warrior. I feel the same way I felt on fight night — if I have to go out, I want to go out on my shield,” Wilder said.
“But I understand that my corner and my team has my best interest at heart. Mark Breland is still a part of Team Wilder and our team looks forward to preparing for the rematch.”
Breland, a former Olympic and world champion, called a halt to last week’s fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena after Wilder had been knocked down twice and pummelled relentlessly by Fury.
Fury seized the World Boxing Council heavyweight title from Wilder, 14 months after the two fought to a dramatic split-decision draw in their first meeting in Los Angeles.
The first fatality from the novel coronavirus has been confirmed on US soil, as President Donald Trump on Saturday urged Americans not to panic.
Health officials said the man who died in Washington state was one of a handful with no known links to global hot zones to have contracted the virus — indicating that the pathogen was now likely spreading in communities.
The death occurred in King County, the most populous in the state and home to Seattle, a city of more than 700,000 people, officials told AFP.
The victim was in his 50s and had “underlying health conditions,” said Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Seattle and King County.
“It is a sad day in our state as we learn that a Washingtonian has died from COVID-19,” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement, sending condolences to the victim’s loved ones.
Inslee declared a state of emergency over coronavirus, freeing up funding for state agencies and allowing the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.
Speaking at a White House news conference Trump said that “additional cases in the United States are likely,” but added that “healthy individuals should be able to fully recover.”
“Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” Trump insisted, calling on “the media and politicians and everybody else involved not to do anything to incite panic.”
Trump identified the victim as “a wonderful woman,” but the CDC later said it had misinformed the president in an earlier briefing.
Washington state also reported on Saturday the country’s first case of coronavirus in a health care worker and the first possible outbreak in a nursing home.
This comes after the states of Oregon and California confirmed late last week the first instances of infected US patients who had not traveled overseas or come in contact with anyone known to be ill.
“While there is still much to learn about the unfolding situations in California, Oregon and Washington, preliminary information raises the level of concern about the immediate threat for COVID-19 for certain communities in the United States,” the CDC said.
‘We will see more cases’
Trump said he would meet with leaders of big pharmaceutical groups at the White House on Monday to discuss treatments and efforts to develop a vaccine to combat the virus.
The president said the number of cases detected by the US public health system now stood at 22. Combined with patients who were repatriated from abroad, the overall number of infected on US soil is now about 70.
“We will see more cases,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told the White House press conference.
“But it’s important to remember, for the vast majority of individuals who contract the novel coronavirus, they will experience mild to moderate symptoms.”
Their treatment will be to remain at home and treat the symptoms as they would the flu, he added.
The president and other officials also announced a more complete ban on travel from Iran, which has seen a rapid spread of the disease, and encouraged Americans to avoid travel to hard-hit areas in Italy and South Korea.
Vice President Mike Pence, charged by Trump to lead efforts against the virus, said that an existing ban on travel from Iran had been expanded to include any foreign national who has visited the Islamic republic within the last 14 days.
Trump also said the United States was ready to assist Iran with its coronavirus outbreak and that “all they have to do is ask.”
An American citizen died of the new coronavirus in early February at the Chinese epicenter of the global outbreak, the city of Wuhan, the US embassy confirmed at the time.
Worldwide, the virus has hit about 60 countries across the globe, with more than 2,900 people killed and over 85,000 infected since it was first detected at an animal market in Wuhan late last year.
A few hundred protesters marched across central London Saturday to call on Britain to reject WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States at hearings that start next week.
A London court is to meet Monday to assess Washington’s request to hand over the media freedoms activist so he can be tried for releasing classified files in 2010 about US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 48-year-old Australian is facing 18 counts — 17 of them under the US Espionage Act — that could see him sentenced to prison terms of up to 175 years.
Supporters of Assange’s freedom gathered outside the Australian government’s representative office and then marched through central London for a rally outside parliament.
Some chanted “journalism is not a crime” and held up banners mocking Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The UK government plays no formal role in the extradition case. Monday’s hearing is expected to last a week and then resume for a second session starting on May 18.
Any ruling is likely to be appealed by the losing side and Assange could remain locked up in a high-security London prison for many more months.
“I don’t really understand why Julian is in jail here,” Assange’s father John Shipton told the crowd on London’s Parliament Square.
Others attending included Pink Floyd rock group co-founder Roger Waters and Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood wore a neon green paper halo with the word “angel” written in black marker.
Assange was “the angel of democracy,” she explained.
The case was injected with a dose of intrigue last week when the defence claimed US President Donald Trump had promised to pardon Assange if he denied Russia leaked emails of his 2016 election rival’s campaign.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian GRU military intelligence agencies hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the runup to the November vote.
WikiLeaks then published the stolen emails. Assange has previously said that he received them from through his website’s anonymous file-sharing system and had no idea who obtained them first.
The DNC hack plays no role in the US case against Assange and Trump denied promising a pardon.
But the court said last week that the evidence was admissible.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, has said that the US travel ban on Nigeria came as a rude shock to the country.
The minister, who spoke during the visit of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard, to his office, stressed that owing to the impact Nigerian professionals have on the US economy, it was unfair to add the country on the list.
Earlier in February, the US President, Donald Trump imposed an immigration visa ban on Nigeria and five other countries including Eritrea, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania
Dr Ngige asked the US ambassador to convey the mood of Nigerians to President Trump and state that the ban is punitive.
“The issue of Nigerian professionals who migrate to the United States to better their skills; it came to us in this Ministry as a rude shock when the US government ban Nigeria and put us in the list of those countries whose immigrant status were cancelled.
“I want you to convey it home that the ban is punitive,” he added.
While responding Ambassador Leonard clarified that the visa ban does not affect people who currently reside in the US, stating that the ban is due to problems of information sharing if addressed, can be reviewed.
“The immigrant visa ban has no effect on people who currently residents in the US; Secretary Pompeo said that it is temporary and it’s about problems with information sharing which are resolvable and we look forward to Nigeria in a very short while, being able to meet those information sharing so the decision can be reviewed.”
She urged the Minister to find mechanisms to harness the abundant entrepreneurial skills in Nigeria’s informal sector and capture it into the formal sector.
“For Nigeria, your portfolio has such an incredible interest for the prosperity and diversification of the economy and Nigerians are so well-known at home and abroad for their industriousness and you hear of how much that activities happen in the informal sector and I wonder how you capture the entrepreneurial spirit into the formal sector.”
Dr Ngige informed that there are already mechanisms in place to upgrade all the skills acquisition centres nationwide so that more skills can be exported to the US and other European countries.
“We are trying to make Nigerians have their skills so that we can export those skills, so that when they go out, they will not be illegal migrants; whether they are carpenters, tailors or welders. We have skills acquisition centres, and we are upgrading all of them so that when they come out, the certificates that come out from our schools will be generally accepted.
“There are those we train here, and they want to go to US and sharpen their skills more,” he added.